the intricacies of perks

In the trying times of the current economic recession, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to juggle between keeping costs low, making it through the recession alive and keeping employees happy with perks.

A professor at Wharton School of Business defined ‘perks’ as anything in the work environment that makes the job more enjoyable for an employee. According to other Wharton professors, perks are considerably more valuable when they allow employees some autonomy (extra points if you refer to my previous blog post!) and some customization regarding their job. The more options given to employees, the better the perks are perceived.

A Robert Half survey in 2011 listed all the perks company executives already offer to employees. The top perks included extra training, flexible work hours and mentoring programs.

Professor Adam Grant of Wharton explains that throughout the generations (i.e.: Generation X, Y, Baby Boomers, etc), we ultimately want the same things from work – it’s the path to getting there that differs from person to person.

The winning combination, then, seems to be having a good relationship with one’s boss, a challenging and mentally stimulating job, as well as perks that tailor employees to their needs. However, the easiest thing companies think of during desperate times are to cut back on the ‘fluff’ – namely, perks that are granted to employees. While doing so may relieve and cut back on some of the costs in the short-term, it is most definitely the long-term kiss of death. Perks make employees feel appreciated and boosts morale. In that light, then, perks are very much a necessary part of company costs, in order to retain employees and ensure top performance.

That said, the article also introduce ways in which perks can be considered detrimental to retaining employees and inspiring top performance. When perks are utilized to attract employees to the job, employees may become arrogant and take these perks for granted.

Suffice to say, perks need to be delicately dealt with to ensure employees are continuously motivated, moral is still high and employees do not start taking such perks for granted. This must also be coupled with dealing with finding ways to stay afloat amidst this recession. I don’t know about you, but I’m fretting just thinking about the delicate balance that needs to be struck.

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Finding ‘Nirvana’

A few posts ago, we talked about ‘the perfect job’ and how the adaptation-level phenomenon can help change our perception of the jobs we hold. This week, I thought I’d actually mention certain qualities that a job can offer that will bolster an individual’s psychological well-being.

It really gets to be as simple as this. What do people usually want or like?
They want their basic human needs fulfilled, yes, but what beyond that?

They like freedom. They like being in control. So, it really isn’t that difficult to fathom that having autonomy in a job contributes to an employee’s happiness. Based on the psychological reactance theory, people often feel threatened when they anticipate their freedom being taken away. According to this theory, there are three potential reactions that may occur:
1. this decrease in perceived freedom could inspire actions that are directly opposed to the rules being implemented or the expectations that have ‘taken away’ the perceiver’s freedom in the first place.
2. the perceiver could work hard to try and re-establish that sense of freedom in some way. The perceiver could do this via indirect restoration, in which witnessing someone else do the very thing they are supposedly not allowed to do will encourage them to follow suit.
3. psychological reactance will cause resentment towards the imposed rule or expectation.

In the work arena, I think it is safe to say #3 is the most probable result of having no autonomy. Therefore, the sense of autonomy in a job and having a sense of control in one’s job will greatly decrease stress levels and even buffer against stress.

Jobs also need to promote creativity. According to a Psychology Today article, creativity “involves originality, imagination and self-expression” (Russell 2011). Thus we tend to appreciate jobs in which we can indulge in these three arenas. What is important to note here is that creativity must be engaged in by the individual him/herself. And what jobs often inspire the most creativity? Autonomous jobs. See where we’re going here?
Let’s think about it. The more creative your job is or inspires you to be, the more stimulated your mind is trying to do your job from day-to-day. The more stimulated your mind is, the less bored you are likely to be, which makes you less likely to feel tired or run-down from the mundaneness.

So, find a job that gives you autonomy and inspires creativeness. Godspeed.

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Battle of the Sexes

Growing up in a highly feministic environment, the one thing I clearly remember about my childhood was my utmost determination to ‘prove the boys wrong’. To me, girls weren’t weaker, they weren’t scared of sports and they most certainly weren’t fragile. So obviously, when this article popped up on my radar, I knew I had to give it a read.

This PsyBlog article provokes some thought by bringing up the issue of whether men or women are more cooperative; based on a longer and more intricate meta-analysis by Balliet et al. (2011), 50 years of research were compiled and examined to average out the cooperativeness of men and women.

As it turns out, when the cooperativeness of the genders were averaged out, the discrepancy between men and women were slight in both mixed-sex and same-sex interactions. The only results that emerged from this meta-analysis were the fact that men were slightly more likely to cooperate in same-sex interactions, whereas women were more likely to cooperate in mixed-sex interactions.

This then begs the question of why women are slightly less cooperative with one another and why men are less cooperative when socializing with women.

With regard to mixed-sex interactions, it is easy to deduce the fact that women may want to follow subjective, cultural and gender norms and react in ways that allow them to be perceived as more ‘submissive’ and ‘gentle’ in their interactions with men. After all, women have been socialized to be less forward while socializing with people. With regard to same-sex interactions, women are perhaps less yielding to one another as they are unable to assert themselves otherwise.

Take home point is, we needn’t get all riled up about who the ‘better sex’ is…not that this will stop any playground debates though.

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Leaders: Can you be a good leader and well-liked?

It’s amazing how many relevant articles pop up on your radar after you’ve learned about a topic.

In this case, I found an article on leadership on PsyBlog after a discussion on the methods and types of leadership in our Occupational Behavior class on Mondays.

In an Ames and Flynn (2007) experiment, 3 groups of MBA students were given questionnaires regarding the managers they’ve worked for, as well as to evaluate one another. These questionnaires were to gauge how much people liked them and how effective these people were as leaders, and a u-shaped relationship emerged, which ultimately makes life a little more difficult for us psychologists.

What this U-shaped graph tells us is that being too unassertive are the least productive, but the more assertive a person is, the more “socially insufferable” he/she is. Where is the happy medium?

The article mentions there is, in fact, a fine line between being the right amount of assertive and maintaining respect socially, but never specifies exactly an actionable approach to ensure an equilibrium between socially likeable and the right amount of assertive.

According to the newer Leadership theory ‘Charismatic and Transformational Leadership’, leaders should act in ways that not only influence employees, but inspire them to perform to the best of their abilities. This theory takes Transactional Leadership one step further, because the point of Transformational Leadership is not only to make sure people get their tasks done, but also to inspire motivation to get the job done.

There are 4 components to Transformational Leadership.
i) idealized influence (charisma) – setting an example, leading by example
ii) inspirational motivation – providing a vision to employees (shared values)
iii) intellectual stimulation – having the ability to challenge employees and encourage risk-taking
iv) individualized consideration – ability to attend to employee’s needs, make them feel appreciated

The take-home point, I feel, is that having the charisma to inspire motivation and diligence in employees is one of the most crucial characteristic a leader can have. Leading by example is a subtle way to push employees to work hard and remain well-liked, which is surely a win-win for all. Ultimately, all these aforementioned aspects combined create a domino-effect of good outcomes that ultimately help productivity, effectiveness and lower-turnover rates in organizations.

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Be careful what you post

Welcome to the social media age, where an individual is considered strange for not having a Facebook account, every minute of a person’s life can be tweeted instantly, and personal diaries are no longer being used because people have tumblr accounts doubling as an online diary. We have all become so expressive in all social networking sites because that’s what we do on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. We connect. We share. But what happens when we share too much?

I was fortunate enough to attend a Professional in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) District 1 meeting yesterday. The first half of the meeting consisted of the top 10 hot topics for the HR practitioner for 2012 (think of this as the ‘trending topics’ for all you Twitter fans out there). One of them caught my eye in particular – social media snares.

We share so much on social networking platforms that sometimes we don’t think twice about what we share, but what is and isn’t ‘appropriate’ becomes tricky when we talk about our job and/or company in a negative light. Where does employee privacy end and an employer’s right to protect the company begin?

A case that took place in Hispanics United of Buffalo, Inc. brought HR attention towards the issue of ‘protected concerted activity’. What happened was one employee criticized a few other employees. After this criticism, one of the criticized employees wrote the following on her Facebook account:

“Lydia Cruz[-Moore], a coworker feels that we don’t help our client enough at HUB I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do you feel?”

This obviously sparked a conversation amongst other employees that were complained about; the conversation included profanity and rude comments, which Lydia Cruz-Moore took to HUB’s management. The employees that were bashing her online were then fired due to an anti-harassment policy in the company. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stated that according to National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), what the employees were engaging in was considered protected concerted activity. Concerted activity includes “circumstances where individual employees seek to initiate or to induce or to prepare for group action”. Basically, ‘group discussions’ regarding concerns about the company are considered protected concerted activity, and are not legitimate grounds for firing an employee/employees.

follow the black sheep?

One thing of concern, however, is how groupthink can play a part to ensure protected concerted activity. Those adding to the conversation amongst disgruntled employees may feel as though everyone feels the same way, enhancing the feelings of negativity towards the organization instead of trying to come up with a rational plan to bring up the issue with HR or the manager. Groupthink may rile up employees to encourage the disgruntlement, which is never good for the morale of a company.

That said, having protected concerted activity can ensure employees feel safe within a certain realm to express their (hopefully valid) concerns without fearing consequences. As long as it appears constructive, it is a good way for companies to learn what they can improve in the workplace, as long as it seems reasonable.

In the meantime, unless an employee is certain their concern is shared by many, it is perhaps best to assume one shouldn’t express their thoughts about work so freely online. You never know who may be reading those status updates.

 

References:

National labor relations act. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nlrb.gov/national-labor-relations-act

Facebook postings found to be protected concerted activity under nlra. (2011, September 16). Retrieved from http://www.ober.com/publications/1517-facebook-postings-found-be-protected-concerted-activity-under-nlra

Nlrb reverses “facebook firing”–social media postings as protected concerted activity for non-unionized employees. (2011, September 22). Retrieved from http://www.healthcareintegrationadvisors.com/employment-law/nlrb-reverses-facebook-firing–social-media-postings-as-protected-concerted-activity-for-non-unionized-employees/

 

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Let’s see that smile of yours!

We’ve all felt it before – that lazy feeling that takes over when we don’t exactly feel like smiling and meaning it. While this fleeting act suffices for passer-bys, ‘frenemies’, or even friends you don’t really have the energy to deal with, this act of faking a smile as an occupation, or even at work has been shown to be detrimental to one’s health.

In my Occupational Behaviors class, we learned about the act of surface and deep acting. Surface acting is the change of behavior, the managing of observable emotions to fit a role. Deep acting, on the other hand, is the managing of feelings for a role. In the case of faking a smile, surface acting seems to be the act that creates a sense of cognitive dissonance in us.

Cognitive dissonance, as all psychology majors have come to know so well, is the discomfort felt when there is a discrepancy between personal beliefs and the behavior emitted. This tension is constantly sought to be relieved by any means possible, and in some cases, the belief is changed to match the behavior.

 

In a Psychology Today article, other researched consequences of faking a smile include decreased work performance as well as physical malaise. Faking a smile has been shown to lead to lower employee satisfaction and quicker job burnout. This research aligns with the concept of ‘emotional labor’, which is the enhancing, faking or suppression of emotions to change emotional expression to adhere to display rules (the ‘rules’ in an occupation that indicate what type of emotion one should convey). This means that the more employees try to suppress or fake any type of emotion on the job, the more they are likely to burnout and through that effect, be less satisfied with their job. It really comes to no surprise, seeing as how consistent tension between how an employee may really feel and what display rules tell them to convey can be exhausting to the psyche.

So now we know what the issue is in the workplace, but how can it be rectified?

Let’s redirect our attention to deep acting. When faced with such cognitive dissonance, sometimes the best thing to do is to cognitively change the way one feels inside. This can be done several ways, one of which includes the recollection of a pleasant memory to frame one’s mind  in a more positive light to match the perceivable behavior.
Another solution to this dissonance is a cognitive reappraisal of the situation. By reframing one’s thoughts or by putting oneself in another person’s shoes, an employee is less likely to feel upset about a situation. For example, for those dealing with angry customers as part of their job, perhaps telling yourself the customer merely has the interest of fixing a problem and finding a solution will help prevent yourself from feeling like you are being berated.

One of the caveats of deep acting, however, lies in the fact that too much deep acting over time may feel disingenuous; you may feel as though you have lost your own self-identity from all the acting. Therefore deep acting may only work for a certain amount of time, in which case the moment it stops working and you are still experiencing cognitive dissonance may be time to look for a job that doesn’t cause so much emotional grief.

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Connecting the dots: Creativity imperative in the workplace

As society advances and innovativeness is becoming more and more imperative to the workplace, there is one trait that I feel is paramount to the survival of an organization: creativity. You need intelligence, you need personality and you need team-players, but creativity seems to be the trait less mentioned, especially since some people think of creativity as a trait exercised by those with an inclination for the arts. However, there are more subtle forms of creativity; there are avenues in which creativity can blossom, especially in institutions like schools and organizations.

My impression of businesses is that a lot of employees may not understand their potential for expressing their creativity in their work. And why should they? For many it’s mundane work – it’s a 9-5 (or perhaps even longer nowadays) ordeal of sitting at a desk getting things done. Unless your job is one that specifically demands creativity, I believe most people aren’t aware they can use creativity in their jobs.

Which way to creativity?

One of the main reasons why people aren’t aware is that they don’t know creativity can even be as simple as seeing the bigger picture, and seeing patterns in places others might not. Along that same vein, they may also think of creativity as something only those that engage in artistic endeavors have. And while that is certainly a form of creativity, creativity hides in vessels of our lives most of us aren’t even aware of.

Let’s go back to the workplace example. I think managers, supervisors and HR representatives should be given kudos for structuring the workplace, managing employees and/or holding training workshops. However it is done in an organization, the planning process did require creativity. Even with factors like motivation tactics and negotiation skills, creativity is used in the workplace. Therefore creativity is never really quite as black and white as people perceive it to be.

Below is an infographic about creativity in relation to the workplace created by Ronald Brown, author of Anticipate: The Architecture of Small Team Innovation and Product Success. His infographic models after that of Graham Wallace’s model of creativity. Wallace’s model of creativity includes 4 processes:
1) preparation – the gathering of materials
2) incubation – allowing the materials to ‘simmer’ in our heads
3) inspiration – the ‘aha’ moment, where the incubation period allows for an idea to inspire the individual
4) evaluation – verifying the end product

One thing I think separates this model from Wallace’s that is pertinent to the workplace are the steps of planning and differentiating. In order for a business to carry out an idea, a lot of organization and teamwork has to be put forth to execute it seamlessly. At the same time, differentiating is imperative as well, because in this day and age, standing out as a company is what makes one company more successful than another.

Therefore, businesses that tend to ‘connect the dots’ that inspire creativity and are able to creatively manage their affairs will flourish. It’s definitely easier said than done, but isn’t it a good thing creativity is so greatly valued in the workplace?

 

References:

Brown, R. (2011, September 30). Product development: 9 steps for creative problem solving [infographic]. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/09/30/creative-problem-solving/

Brown, R. (2011, September). Anticipate. the architecture of small team innovation and product success.. Retrieved from http://blog.browncompany.com/

Howard, P. J. (2006). The owner’s manual for the brain. (3 ed., pp. 617-618). Austin: Bard Press.

 

 

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